Yesterday was the local elections, where people across the country voted in one of 230 districts to choose their council. At time of writing early Friday afternoon, the results are still coming in, but it’s certainly looking like a bad election for the Conservatives. Labour are seeing a positive swing, have flipped five councils and 181 seats up from the last election.
Pundits, politicians and analysts are rushing out the gate to put their own spin on proceedings, but the reality appears to be that people across the country are punishing the Conservatives for the myriad of issues faced over the past few years. Will that translate to a Labour general election win in 2024? Anybody who says ‘yes’ is jumping the gun. Although putting in a good local election performance, history suggests it doesn’t always translate to general election success. This is doubly true given the number of councils flipping to ‘no overall control’, and the gains made by the LibDems; seemingly back from their political exile following their coalition with the Tory’s in 2010.
Certainly, Labour have plenty to celebrate, but Conservative loses aren’t automatically Labour gains. The Labour Party, and left-wing parties generally, are usually pretty good at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and with Scotland still (for now) supporting the SNP, Starmer’s pathway to Number 10 is far from guaranteed. Could we see further hung parliaments? I wouldn’t rule it out.
A more immediate question will be what happens to Rishi Sunak. Already contending with discontent among his backbenches, this sharp rebuke from the British electorate will only further embolden the budget machiavellians that are skulking in the wings. Murmurs of a Boris Johnson comeback can’t be fully discounted, and the crazies of the party are still trying to move the overton window even further to the right. Expect even stronger rhetoric around asylum seekers, immigration and ‘wokeism’, the tried and tested – but increasingly tired – narrative. And, lest we forget, the Conservative membership didn’t vote him in as leader. They instead threw their weight behind Liz Truss, and Sunak only got in after her omnishambolic, lettuce-outlived premiership became untenable.
Those of a more moderate persuasion might see the results coming out of today as a sign of the national immune system kicking in after years of a sickly Tory party running rampant. I wish I could share your optimism, but a lot can happen between now and autumn 2024 – the latest Sunak can hold out for an election. And make no mistake, he and his party will do all they can to cling on for as long as possible.
In the meantime, we need to continue to do what we can for one another. Choose hope and collaboration over hatred and cruelty, and make sure we continue to promote democratic participation to people of all ages – and alert people to the awful voting requirements the government has cynically implemented.